Trey Lance: Why Did It All Go Wrong For The 49ers

Trey Lance: Why Did It All Go Wrong For The 49ers
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Trey Lance was drafted to be the future of the San Francisco 49ers. Instead he has been traded to the Dallas Cowboys for just a fraction of the price it cost to get him.

The 49ers traded three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to trade up from 12th overall to 3 which allowed them to select Lance. The Cowboys are giving them a 4th round pick in 2024 in return. A trade that stings even more as the 2021 NFL Draft class was stacked with talent in the top 15 picks.

Lance was built as the future franchise quarterback. The shiny new playmaker for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to take the 49ers to the next level. Just 2 seasons removed from his selection the 49ers have unavoidably admitted it has failed.

Entering his 3rd season in the NFL, Trey Lance now has a new home in Dallas, but why did it all go so terribly wrong for him at the 49ers?

Devastating Injuries

Throughout his short NFL career Lance has dealt with injuries. He entered the 2021 NFL Draft process with soreness in his arm which caused issues with his accuracy and motion.

During that preseason Lance fractured a finger on his throwing hand. The issue hindered his rookie season and has had a longstanding effect on his long term development.

Speaking in May 2023 about Lance’s injuries Shanahan said ““I think it impacted him a ton because he had to adjust it during the season just to be able to get through. He was healthy, but it didn’t heal healthy”. Lance did start games in 2021 as a rookie due to injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo but ran hot and cold.

Fast forward to the start of the 2022 season and Trey Lance was slated to be the starter. He lost to the Chicago Bears in a monsoon in the season opener. The terrestrial downpour made it difficult to assess his development. Then in the second game disaster struck.

Image Credit: MARCA

Lance suffered a season ending ankle fracture in just the second game of 2022 which required 2 surgeries. For a player that was desperate for gametime to gain experience the ankle injury was catastrophic for his 49ers career.

Garoppolo came back in, before he got injured down the stretch of the season.

The 2023 Quarterback Battle

Enter Mr Irrelevant Brock Purdy. The very last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft stepped up and took his opportunity. The rookie was the talk of the NFL world with impressive performances in his 8 starts.

Despite tearing his UCL in the NFC Conference Title Game, Purdy was always going to be the starter heading into the 2023 season. But the injuries to both Lance and Purdy lead the 49ers to bring in Sam Darnold, a former 3rd overall pick himself to the New York Jets. 

Darnold struggled in New York and was labeled a bust by many. He found himself being traded to the Carolina Panthers but even that couldn’t produce results. Darnold’s career looked doomed before signing with the 49ers to compete for a backup spot.

Darnold and Lance shared reps but Darnold won out. Lance was named officially as QB3 on the depth chart. For a player who was meant to be the future of the 49ers, to watch a new quarterback come in and take reps away from you in practice must be confidence crushing. 

Image Credit: USA Today

Lack Of Development

Despite the injury issues, the 49ers will take their share of the blame. Why it didn’t work in San Francisco isn’t entirely down to Lance. 

The 49ers haven’t been able to develop and progress Lance as they would have thought they would when they drafted him. Entering the draft Lance was touted as a prospect who had all the tools. But, his lack of experience meant his game needed to be developed, matured and refined. 

Coming out of NDSU, Lance’s scouting report read that he was an athletic quarterback who had all the physical skills that the NFL looks for in modern quarterbacks. Prototypical size, outstanding mobility and a cannon for an arm, Lance was a very intriguing prospect. Seen as extremely mature for his age, his pure playmaking ability made him a converted prospect. But, Lance’s lack of playtime and low level of competition concerns meant he was going to need to go to the right fit if he was going to reproduce his college success. 

When the 49ers selected Lance many thought that Shanahan and his system was the perfect environment for him to flourish. But by trading up and giving away three 1st round picks, Lance was shouldered with unnecessary pressure to succeed from the off. 

Lack Of Playing Time

The 49ers were never going to get an instant return on investment. Including sitting out for his final year, Lance only played in 19 games during his time at NDSU.  He was always going to need time to bed in the NFL. He was going to need time to adapt to the higher level of opposition and most of all he was going to need real game reps.

As reported by Field Yates, Lance has played in 8 games during his time in San Francisco. Which is “the fewest games played by a top 5 pick with the team he debuted with since the start of the common draft era in 1967”. 

The lack of playing time, injuries and starting opportunities have interrupted and delayed Lance’s development.

As The Athletics’s Diana Russini reported, the 49ers have been actively shopping Trey Lance all offseason. Still just 23, Lance still has his whole career ahead of him and if the Cowboys can put their arm around him, give him some confidence and an opportunity to develop, then Lance may just be able to salvage something from his NFL career. 

Image Credit: San Francisco Chronicle

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